"At the beginning of the project there was not much awareness of the priorities to be addressed, the difficulties to be faced and how to visualize a transition. I believe that now that the project is over, there are many more ingredients to fine-tune continuity on this path towards truly sustainable coffee farming."
There are now many more ingredients to continue on the road to sustainable coffee growing
Geo-ecologist and agroforester, trained at the Universities of Bayreuth in Germany and the University of Florida in the USA, Dr. Reinhold Muschler works as a professor of agroforestry, agroecology, organic production and diversification of systems at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE), Costa Rica.
Prof. Muschler provided technical support to the Coffee NSP in the form of several training sessions for both technical and extension staff and on-farm producers. Among the main objectives was to promote greater awareness of the fundamental importance of productive and functional diversification through the management of appropriate trees on coffee farms to generate ecological and economic benefits. In addition, Muschler contributed inputs for the development of a measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) system to document emission reductions.
Trees and their multiple roles
The trainings emphasized the positive impact of the presence of trees in both mitigating and adapting to climate change, as well as the importance of diversifying coffee plantations for productive and environmental conservation purposes.
For Muschler, part of the efforts that must be made as a country now consist of reversing a trend that began in the 1980s when the country's coffee industry opted for a formula that favored little or no shade with an intense package of agrochemicals. This vision, focused on maximizing production in the short-term, was also the norm in other countries such as Colombia and Brazil and led to a high environmental cost in the form of soil, water and biodiversity degradation that would be paid for in the long term by ecosystems and future generations.
Muschler considers that, in general, coffee growers show a greater inclination to positively value the presence or introduction of trees on their farms. It could be that, due to their close and daily relationship with nature, these people are able to more easily perceive the benefits that trees provide, both for the coffee trees and to complement the income of their families in the case of fruit or timber trees.
Knowing the adverse climatic conditions that coffee plantations will face in the future due to higher temperatures, heavier rains and winds, as well as more pronounced droughts, the presence of trees with adequate and well-managed attributes can significantly increase the resilience of coffee plantations, explains Muschler.
Although the benefits of associating trees with coffee tend to be greater in sub-optimal zones, in the medium and long term it will be essential to include a greater number of trees and diversify the species in all coffee growing zones. This will generate the environmental services that the health, not only of coffee plantations but also of humanity, depends.
Notes for progress
For the future, it is key to emphasize working with people who are motivated and willing to make the necessary changes in order to demonstrate concrete benefits and thus convince even the most skeptical people.
Having reached 8,289 people on farms and 590 extensionists with the support of the Coffee NSP is an unquestionable achievement, but Muschler believes that this achievement should be seen as just a first step on the road towards a systematic transformation of the entire coffee sector. This path must necessarily include the development of a strategy of continuous motivation that generates tangible benefits for the entire coffee value chain. In this, he points out, marketing will represent an important challenge until such time as substantial rewards are established for coffee produced with low emissions.
Muschler does not hesitate to confirm that the Coffee NSP has made it possible to establish a solid foundation for the transformation of the entire coffee sector, but it will be of utmost importance to link complementary projects that build on the progress achieved and that reinforce each other. Muschler believes that, since the Coffee NSP succeeded in getting 84% of the participating coffee growers to implement at least two good agricultural practices, with the support of other projects that systematically support this process, the ambitious goal of transforming the entire coffee sector towards a production that, while being profitable, is also environmentally friendly and contributes to the achievement of Costa Rica's decarbonization goals, can also be achieved.
Despite the substantial challenges, Muschler is optimistic. -At the beginning of the project there was not much awareness of the priorities to be addressed, the difficulties to be faced and how to visualize a transition. I believe that now that the project is over, there are many more ingredients to fine-tune continuity on this path towards truly sustainable coffee farming.